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Book review: What Is Paleolithic Art? (Jean Clottes)

Clottes is an archaeologist who has probably seen more prehistoric art than anyone else, and here he offers his view of what it means. The book was published in French in 2011 with the title Pourquoi l'art prehistorique?. Why the present publishers chose to change this for the English translation isn't clear since Clottes was certainly concerned with answering the why question.

Not everyone agrees that it is even possible to know why our prehistoric ancestors made these extraordinary pictures in the way they did, but many people have put forward hypotheses to explain the work. These include art for art's sake (now largely out of favour), totemism, and sympathetic magic to assist in hunting, to preserve animal fertility, or to eliminate dangerous predators such as lions and bears. But Clottes finds all of these to be wanting or at least incomplete. He favours the view that an essential clue to understanding prehistoric art is shamanism. In this he is taking the same approach as David Lewis-Williams, with whom he has collaborated a good deal over many years. [More]

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